On Saturday, the No. 2 Texas Longhorns needed two things to happen in order to secure a share of the Big 12 regular-season title — win the series against the West Virginia Mountaineers and get some help from the Kansas State Wildcats.
At UFCU Disch-Falk Field, control issues by a thin Mountaineers pitching staff allowed the Longhorns to threaten early and quickly take a decisive lead.
The West Virginia starter left the game without recording an out in the second inning after allowing three walks and a single while throwing a wild pitch that tied the game at 1-1. Another walk and a single scored two more runs to provide some cushion for Texas starter Pete Hansen.
The Longhorns broke the game open in the third inning when left fielder Eric Kennedy showed signs of breaking out of his recent slump with a three-run home run, making the Mountaineers pay for two more walks.
Kennedy finished the game 3-for-4 with four RBI and three runs, adding a triple. It was the first multi-hit game for Kennedy in five weeks, a period during which his batting average dropped more than 50 points.
Head coach David Pierce admitted that Kennedy has been frustrated in recent weeks because he’s struggled to get base hits beyond an occasional infield single or bunt single. “If you don’t have a mindset of being a hitter, you’re not going to be a hitter,” Pierce said. So Texas head coach wasn’t too frustrated with Kennedy when ignored Pierce’s sign to try to a two-out pull drag bunt with two outs and hit the run-scoring triple instead.
Hansen continued to prove himself as a capable No. 3 starter heading into the postseason, going 6.0 innings and allowing one run on two hits with those hits coming against the first two batters he faced. In allowing four walks, Hansen didn’t have his best stuff, including struggling to locate his fastball in the first inning, but he was still able to strike out six West Virginia batters and battled for his seventh win of the season.
With the Horns surging to an eight-inning, run-rule 12-2 victory over the Mountaineers, Kennedy made a surprising admission — for the first time in his career, his focus was split between the game he was playing in and the game going on in Manhattan between Kansas State and TCU.
A loss by the Horned Frogs would split the Big 12 regular-season title and give the Longhorns the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament.
In left field, the fans outside the stadium updated Kennedy on the score during the top of the sixth inning — the Wildcats had tied the game. After Texas retired the side, Kennedy headed into the locker room where the game was playing on the television, making it just in time to see the walk-off home run as Kansas State rallied from a four-run deficit in the first inning and a four-run deficit entering the ninth inning.
As fans tracking the game erupted in cheers, at third base Pierce realized for the first time that TCU had lost and Texas was set to secure its first regular-season conference title since 2018.
On Tuesday, No. 8 seed West Virginia faces No. 9 seed Kansas in Oklahoma City in the play-in game to determine the opening matchup for Texas on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Central on ESPN+/Big 12 Now. After Saturday’s game, Pierce was not ready to announce who will start for the Longhorns on Wednesday.